Jean Paul Gaultier talks about the Fashion Freak Show
A teddy with a conical bra and the unwavering support of a grandmother: the iconic designer leaves a legacy while singing and dancing during his spellbinding show, Fashion Freak Show.
With trends in dizzying abundance and fast-paced fashion sweeping the high street, it’s safe to say that when it comes to the notion of a fashion icon, rich in creative thoughts and having no afraid to push the boundaries of convention, they stand out among the crowd. A precedent that is not up to the mastery and skill of Jean Paul Gaultier. With humble beginnings rooted in the suburbs of Paris, Gaultier, aided by an unwaveringly supportive grandmother, nurtured a love for design and a fascination with conical bras that saw his childhood teddy bear wearing them. a, long before Madonna elevates the polished maverick design to icon status on her blond ambition round. Quickly becoming the poster child of avant-garde clothing after pioneering punk and gender-fluid aesthetics on the runway and taking the insights he leveraged from houses such as Esterel and Jean Patou and unashamedly leaving his mark on them, he now stands as one of the most revered designers in history.
A story as rich in gripping anecdotes as the one above is also a story nearly impossible to do justice through written words. So, to pay homage to a man so rooted in the visual and the physical, of course, there is only one way to tour his legacy in modern times: a show all in song and dance .
A magical affair I was made aware of as I traveled to the Roundhouse in Camden for the opening night of what is expected to be a run of 52 performances in August in the UK capital, Gaultier’s playful name Fashion freak show is not to be missed. A show worthy of the name, creative and sexual inhibitions are left at the theater doors as contorted bodies, aerial acrobatics and, of course, recreations of some of the creator’s most legendary tracks, fill the stage as a sing-song cast celebrates her unique take on the fashion world. But, while it may be a fantastic feast for the senses, that’s not to say the tender core of the show hasn’t run its course. From the cameo invoking adoration of Gaultier’s grandmother to the heartbreaking unveiling of the tragic passing of his partner, Francis Menuge, it became clear that while the explosive glamor of the display was a true reflection of the man around whom it is centered, it is also an ode to her abundant heart and soul. And, with the man himself sitting among the eager viewers on the show’s first night, I couldn’t help but glance at him and wonder what it must be like to see the euphoric highs and unimaginable lows of his life unfold before your eyes.
Taking the time to help satisfy my curiosity, Jean Paul Gaultier sat down with Wonderland to talk about the inspiring nature of London’s creative freedom, the birth of Fashion freak show and the upcoming release of her latest fragrance, Scandal Les Parfums. Head below to enjoy our conversation with Jean Paul Gaultier…
I’ve heard you refer to ‘The London Way’ and its ability to allow creative freedom, especially when dressing. What do you think about the city that allows it?
The first time I discovered creative freedom was at Pierre Cardin. I started working for him on my 18th birthday. He was a free man and always did what he wanted creatively. He taught me the value of freedom. When he wanted something I did, he told me not to stop there but to design a piece of furniture with the same idea. I found it exciting that you could do whatever you wanted and not have to stick to what was considered the norm. When I moved to other Parisian houses, Esterel and Jean Patou, I found the atmosphere snobby and stuffy and that’s where I discovered London. There was still a retro vibe with the fabulous Biba boutique; there were girls with curves who weren’t afraid to flaunt them in figure-hugging dresses. Then a little later, punk was in the air. I saw the Rocky Horror Show at Kings Road before the movie. And then, I was very influenced by the punk movement. I escaped every weekend to London and it was like a breath of fresh air. I even considered moving but my job was in Paris and I couldn’t leave it.
I have to take a moment to tell you about the final iconic couture show! What a sight it was! How did the vision for the show come to fruition?
Even though it was my retirement from fashion, I didn’t want it to be sad in any way, I wanted it to be a celebration of my 50 years in fashion, and I wanted it to be at the Théâtre du Châtelet where II saw my first play when I was six years old with my grandmother. I invited, as models, friends I’ve worked with over the years – models I knew in the 70s and 80s, new friends, actors, ballet dancers, Boy George and Catherine Ringer sang – there were a hundred and fifty models, over 200 looks, it was all a joyous mess and I found myself relaxing and enjoying it all. The idea was to say goodbye to fashion and show how much I loved it and how happy I was to be part of it for so many years.
I imagine your life has changed quite a bit since you left home! When did you realize it was time for you to retire?
I retired from fashion, but I didn’t retire. I have so many new projects at the moment that sometimes I feel like I’m working harder than before. But at some point, I felt that fashion had changed and I was struggling to regain the freedom I had when I started and throughout my career. It’s become a competition between big groups, marketing and advertising, and I don’t really care. Also, I felt it was time to leave my place to the younger generations. This is why my name endures in haute couture through collaborations with the next generation of designers. I had this idea a long time ago, in the early 90s when Christian Lacroix left Jean Patou to found his own house. I proposed to the former owners of Patou to have each season a different creator from a young generation like Mugler, Alaia and myself. It never materialized but, thirty years later, my idea finally came to fruition and already three designers presented a couture show under my name.
While you may have moved away from home, that doesn’t mean you’ve stopped channeling your creativity into projects, more evident in Fashion freak show. Let’s discuss the birth of this piece! What prompted you to put such a display? What can viewers expect?
Before watching the movie Frills of Jacques Becker, who inspired me to work in fashion and become a designer like the main character of the film, I had seen the premiere of the Folies Bergère on television. I was so dazzled by the girls in feathers and fishnets that I drew them in class the next day. My teacher grabbed me and gave me a tour of class with the drawing pinned to my back. But the opposite of a punishment happened. I wasn’t very popular at school because I wasn’t good at sports, but suddenly everyone wanted me to draw something for them. I realized that I could be loved through my work. So from there I always dreamed of doing a review and the time came in 2018 where Fashion freak show premiered at the Folies Bergère in Paris. I thought about what the theme of this show could be and decided to tell the story of my life because that’s what I know best. I’m not good at writing, so I did the script visually – I scripted it. And I chose music with Nile Rodgers that was important to me at different stages of my life. Marion Motin did the choreography and the late Tonie Marshall was co-director with me. Again I asked my friends to help me – Rossy de Palma, Catherine Ringer, Line Renaud, Catherine Deneuve… Of course there is a big part about London and Antoine de Caunes, my friend from Eurotrash , makes an appearance.
You are of course known for your unconventional creations, but you have also made a name for yourself in the world of perfumes! What first inspired you to explore perfume creation?
It was part of my haute couture dream; Christian Dior, Yves Saint Laurent and Pierre Cardin could not have achieved fame without a fragrance to accompany it. Long before it was financially feasible, my partner, Francis Menuge, concocted a mixture that mixed, among other things, cotton candy and chocolate. I really loved it, it was like a kid’s aperitif, very sweet that once drunk it makes you want a second then a third etc.
Do you have a favorite scent that you’ve created over the years? If so, why is it your favorite? You also have the release of Scandal Les Parfums, and the story is a mix of desire, sex appeal and seduction! Would you say these themes are central themes in your creative ethic?
My first perfume, Classique, which will celebrate its 30th anniversary next year, is iconic and still very current. I was inspired by my grandmother’s rice powder which she used in abundance as well as her rice pudding. An already mixed scent dominated by Vanilla.
Scandal Perfumes are generous and excessive; it’s an erotic millefeuille with caramel as the common ingredient for women and men… addictive! Each perfume is linked to sensuality, much more than a garment. The perfume is the skin. I’ve always wanted to have fun with my creations, play with subterfuge and appearances, and go beyond traditional codes. Men’s skirts from my 1985 collection, Madonna’s iconic corset in 1990 for the blond ambition tour, Naomi Campbell’s topless fashion show in 2002 and many more. Beautiful sexy women with curves, ethnic women, androgynous women. I don’t want to have a precise image of a woman in my shows, I want to present what really exists. And the same for men. I also like to show attitude.
You also chose Parker Van Noord and Imaan Hammam as the faces of the fragrances! What made them the right person for this particular campaign?
Parker and Iman are the perfect modern couple. it is a story of desire. She, an incomparable punch and endless legs. Him, scorching dimples. It’s a love match.
It’s no secret that you’ve dressed some of the biggest style icons of the times, past and present, including Madonna, Rihanna and Kim Kardashian. But I want to know, who would you cite as your ultimate muse?
I think of different women when I create, I don’t like to limit myself to a muse. Of course, my relationship with Madonna at the time of blond ambition The tour will always stay in my heart because we were two people who understood each other and we were on the same page.
And finally, I want to know, what do you hope your future holds for you?
Lots of nice things, I hope. I am looking forward to the new couture collaboration in January, but also to many other projects that I have started and which you will know more about soon.